PEnnsylvania 6-5000 is a telephone number in New York City, written in the 2L+5N (two letters, five numbers) format that was common in the largest US cities from approximately 1930 into the 1960s. The named Pennsylvania exchange served the area around Penn Station in New York. The two letters, PE, stand for the numbers 7 and 3, making the phone number 736-5000, not including the +1-212 area code for Manhattan.
The number is best known from the 1940 hit song "PEnnsylvania 6-5000", a swing jazz and pop standard recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Its owner, the Hotel Pennsylvania, claims it to be the oldest continuing telephone number in New York City. While the hotel opened in 1919, the exact age of the telephone number and the veracity of the hotel's claim are unknown.
At the time of Glenn Miller's popular network radio broadcasts, most local telephone calls in large cities were being dialed directly. All intercity calls required the operator. There were no area codes. The length of local numbers varied widely; four or five digits was more than enough for a small city with a single central office, while separate central offices served individual neighborhoods of larger cities.
In large cities, each central office had one or more telephone exchange names. In the 2L+5N system, used only in the largest cities, a seven-digit local number was dialed as the first two letters of the exchange name (PE for "PEnnsylvania", the exchange serving the area around Penn Station) and five digits.
The original manual-only exchanges did not standardize length of local numbers. The first automated dial exchanges in the Bell System were deployed in 1919. When seven-digit telephone numbers were first assigned in New York in 1920, the 3L-4N (3 letter-4 number) system had represented the number in the format "PENnsylvania 5000". (A similar system was used in Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia.) By 1930, 3L-4N was replaced by the 2L–5N system, using two letters and five digits, and PEN-5000 became PE6-5000, much like the "BUTterfield" exchange became BUtterfield 8.
There were no telephone area codes until 1947; there was no direct distance dialling until 1951. A call from outside the city would be placed through an operator, "long distance, New York City, Pennsylvania six, five-thousand". The long distance operator would either plug into a labelled "New York City, 2L+5N" trunk and dial PE6-5000 or ask the New York City inbound operator to ring the number. The initial area code assignment gave "PEnnsylvania 6-5000" Manhattan's area code, as (212) PE6-5000.
In 1969, the PE6 telephone exchange was the first in Manhattan to be transferred from its panel switch to a 1ESS switch, temporarily making it a significant part of New York Telephone's service crisis. In 1999, area code 646 was overlaid on 1-212; in 2003, eleven-digit local calling was imposed on all of New York City, including calls within the same area code. Letters from the original named exchange prefixes are occasionally spotted on old signage in the city, but are increasingly rare.
In popular culture
Many big band names played in the Hotel Pennsylvania's Café Rouge, including the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The phone number became the inspiration for the Glenn Miller 1940 Top 5 Billboard hit of the same name.
The number also inspired the pun title Transylvania 6-5000, used separately as titles for a 1963 Bugs Bunny cartoon and a 1985 full-length live-action film. The number was requested in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), mentioned by the character Frank Burns in an episode of MASH (season one episode 17) in a mix of the Milli Vanilli song "Baby Don't Forget My Number" (1989),) and used by David Lynch in the third episode of his television series, Twin Peaks (first aired in 1990).)
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